Why Is Sacramento the Capital of California?
Ask any grade school student in New York or Chicago what the capital of California is—most would likely say Los Angeles or San Francisco. Surprisingly, however, the capital of California is Sacramento. Located within the Central Valley, Sacramento is California's seventh most populous city, and it certainly isn't the most well-known city in the state. So the question most people ask when they learn Sacramento is California's capital city is: Why?
Sacramento was chosen as the capital of California because:
- It was founded early in the state's history.
- It was the center of Gold Rush economic activities
- It has a convenient inland location, close to both the Sierra Nevada and the Pacific coast
To find out more about how and why Sacramento was chosen as the capital, keep on reading!
The History of Sacramento's Settlement
The history of Sacramento is as old as California itself. The area that would eventually become the state capital was originally settled by John Sutter. Sutter built Sutter's Fort in the heart of what is now downtown Sacramento. Sutter's Fort was used as a trading colony and military stockade, where fruits, vegetables and other resources that were found in the area were distributed to Sacramento's earliest settlers. Sutter also built mills in the nearby foothills. It was at one of these mills—in what is now Coloma—where John Marshall, an employee at Sutter's Fort, found gold in a stream in 1849.
Eureka! The Gold Rush Brings More Settlers to Sacramento
Around the time Marshall screamed, "Eureka!", John Sutter's son, John Sutter Jr. was planning to make Sacramento a city. It was incorporated in 1849 and was the first incorporated city in the state of California. Due to Sacramento's location at the base of the foothills (which were filled with gold) and only ninety miles inland from San Francisco, Sacramento was a major distribution point and center for Gold Rush activities. That is why Sacramento was the starting point of the First Transcontinental Railroad. Most of the people who came to California searching for fortune went through Sacramento. In addition, the businesses and services that came to California with the minors settled in Sacramento.
When Did Sacramento Become the Capital of California?
Originally, Monterey was chosen as the capital of California. However, after Monterey hosted California's Constitutional Convention in 1849 and California was admitted as a state to the United States, the capital was moved, first to San Jose, then to Vallejo, and then to Benicia. In 1854, the capital was moved again, this time to Sacramento—and Sacramento is where it remained.
Why Was Sacramento Chosen as the Capital?
Sacramento was a logical choice for the state capital. First, because of the Gold Rush, Sacramento had become the destination point for the new settlers who came to California hoping to strike it rich. With the gold miners came shopkeepers, blacksmiths, and other service-related entrepreneurs, giving the city a good economic base.
Second, unlike the other temporary capitals, Sacramento was not near the ocean, and that meant there was little chance of invasion. However, Sacramento's proximity to rivers that led to San Francisco and other ports allowed the city to engage in the economy both on land and at sea.
Last, many of the most powerful people in the newly formed state of California lived in Sacramento. John Sutter and John Marshall helped found the city, so the city had already been planned—street grids were completed and it already had a government in place. No new city had to be formed; rather, the state capital could move to an area that had already been established.
What Is Sacramento Like Today?
The California State Capitol building remains the the centerpiece of downtown Sacramento. Around the capital, the buildings housing the government have risen to accommodate the growth of state bureaucracy. The city of Sacramento has grown as well, and it still strives to be considered a big city comparable to Los Angeles and San Francisco. But while the other cities have all the perks (and problems) of big cities, Sacramento remains a small town at heart—proud to house the center of California's government.